Trish Unruh joined the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department 10 years ago as a nutritionist in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly called WIC.
She said she enjoys her job because she gets to work with breast-feeding women and children up to 5 years old. Her work includes reviewing measurements and providing referrals, education and counseling. She said, “What I love about nutrition is you really learn about people when you talk about eating and family traditions around eating. You get a glimpse into their life and lifestyle.”
Unruh also helps coordinate an annual fall event called “Kickin’ It With WIC,” which centers on the importance of physical activity. Last month, she helped launch a new event “Cookin’ With WIC,” which focused on gardening and the importance of eating healthy.
A few years ago, Unruh became the coordinator of a new community effort called LiveWell EatWell. The goal is to help restaurants provide healthier options and to recognize restaurants that DO offer them. Unruh meets with restaurant owners and managers and they talk about the menu and what the barriers are to providing more nutritious foods. Unfortunately, she said, the barrier seems to be that unhealthy options are the best sellers, so Unruh urges consumers to speak up for healthier options such as fresh fruit or steamed vegetables as a side. “The more restaurants hear those requests, the more likely they will add those healthier options to their regular menus,” she said. She does feel that progress is being made, for example, some restaurants are switching from whole milk to 1 percent milk and they are using whole grains.
Unruh served on the Health Department’s wellness committee for a few years and was instrumental in starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for Health Department staff members last year. The CSA is provided through a student-run garden project called “Growing Food, Growing Health,” which involves The Community Mercantile Education Foundation staff and Lawrence students.
WIC Coordinator Jennifer Church said, “Trish continues to seek out learning opportunities and loves to stay active on community initiatives such as LiveWell EatWell and the CSA project.” She described Unruh as very thorough, knowledgeable and kind. “Trish practices empathy daily with clients and provides pertinent education based on the client’s individual needs.”
Unruh grew up in the Kansas City area and received her bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and then earned a master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in nutrition from the University of North Carolina. She worked in a hospital for a few years in Columbia, Mo., and then worked for Humana in Kansas City for 11 years.
Unruh said she got into nutrition because of her own personal struggles with weight as an adolescent. “I went on some pretty wild diets to lose weight. What I learned when I started eating with balance and moderation was I could lose weight and feel great.”